New York Times!

Y’all, The Boat People was in THE NEW YORK TIMES!

“Just send me a couple of copies,” I said to my publicist. She sent 20.

“Just send me a couple of copies,” I said to my publicist. She sent 20.

THE NEW YORK TIMES! The Boat People was featured in the December 9th issue’s “new in paperback” section alongside Emily Wilson’s translation of Homer’s Odyssey and a non-fiction about the roots of the American asylum system. Appropriate, n’est-ce pas?

The American paperback hit shelves this month and along with it came a small resurgence in publicity stateside, including the NYT mention, a lovely review in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and some blog love too.

And late last month, LitHub asked me to curate a list of “lesser known Canadian books.” So I wrote a short essay and threw together a book list, all the while cringing at the thought of the title LESSER KNOWN CANADIAN BOOKS AS CHOSEN BY TOTALLY UNKNOWN CANADIAN. But when the piece came out I laughed out loud (and totally approved) of the title they chose. The Great White North Isn’t So White.

And speaking of lists, it is end-of-the-year round up season and The Boat People was one of several books on the CBC’s Best Canadian Fiction of 2018 list, 49th Shelf’s best fiction of the year, and the best books of the year list on Pickle Me This.

1843 and other nice reviews

The Economist's 1843 (their culture magazine) has spotlighted The Boat People in their "What the world is reading" section this month. You can read the entire piece in print or online. Here's the bit I like best: “Already on several bestseller lists in Canada, Bala’s fiction has been praised for its timely appeal and its ability to capture this journey through the perspective of refugees.”

As I've said before, it's been an unexpected gift to hear from readers about the different ways they engaged with the book and in particular how their own life experiences shaped the way they interacted with the characters and storylines. I've been feeling pretty smug about the diversity of feedback. This is exactly what I hoped: that the novel would be a different book for every reader.

So I was thrilled to hear a couple of reviews on the radio this week. Bahareh Shigematsu talked about how the book brought back memories of her family's experiences as refugees from Iran as well as how it made her think about current events. "A lot more people should read this and find out about the history of our country. And it's not just history. It's current events. It's happening now." I had a little chuckle hearing how much Grace infuriated her! I was frustrated with Grace too. Just as I am frustrated with people like her who are so keen on building walls and closing doors to people in need. And I was so touched by this piece by Daniel Tseghay and in particular his thoughts on a scene that struck a particular chord with him. You can hear his radio review here (skip forward to 58:39).

Elsewhere online, the CBC asked the five Canada Reads finalists to write a little about their writing spaces. You can read my essay here.

The book once again made the CBC and Globe & Mail best-seller lists this week. The Canada Reads debates start on Monday. I'm a little sad, to be honest. I've read all the books and just love them. Each is important and riveting and necessary. Craig Davidson - who is just as genuine and funny in person as he is on the page - said something insightful in January when we were all together for the launch. This isn't about us or our books now, he said. It's about the champions and what happens around the table. I'm paraphrasing and probably badly but the sentiment is sound. Nothing that's said next week will change my opinion or the experience I had reading The Marrow Thieves or American War or Precious Cargo or Forgiveness. Still, I'm going to be cringing and queasy for all of us as I tune in.

At the same time, it really doesn't matter. I mean, yes, of course it matters. Winning authors and books get more publicity and opportunities and royalties, definitely more top-of-mind reader awareness. But landing on the short list has been an incredible boost for the book. And it's a thrill to have my book championed by someone whose ambition, activism, music, and work ethic I really respect. I have every confidence that Mozhdah is going to speak with passion and eloquence and be a credit to my novel.

So it's difficult to imagine feeling disappointed if we lose. Especially because of something I discovered earlier this week. But THAT is a subject for tomorrow's post.

 

Springtime in Vancouver

On Tuesday there was a snow day in St. John's and I escaped to Vancouver where it was spring. I was there, of course, for the Incite: New Voices of CanLit event at the Vancouver Public Library. Three cheers to the Vancouver Writers Fest for putting on such a stellar event. I was especially impressed with how well they curated the authors. I had never met Kim Fu, Guillaume Morissette or Djamila Ibrahim before but the four of us had a great chemistry on and off stage. That doesn't often happen. (And we spontaneously colour coordinated with the library's colour scheme...ha!) It was really special to be at the Vancouver Public Library too because in The Boat People's fictional Vancouver, 350 West Georgia is the site of the Immigration and Refugee Board Building. As my editor Anita said: reading in that space was like bringing the story home.

With the teacher at Westside (photo courtesy of  Westside's instagram )

With the teacher at Westside (photo courtesy of Westside's instagram)

My publicists took full advantage of my visit and packed the schedule with interviews and appearances. I began Wednesday with something better than coffee: a taping of Can't Lit with the hilarious, vivacious, sharp- tongued duo of Jen Sookfong Lee and Dina Del Bucchia. (I'll post an update when the episode is live.) I've been listening to Can't Lit for a while so being a guest was a real treat.

Then it was off to Westside School's Miniversity for a reading, Q&A, and another podcast interview. First, Westside doesn't look like any highschool you've ever seen. It's more like the open-plan offices of a start-up company. Second, the students are SMART. They were engaged and asked good, thought-provoking questions. It was my first school visit and Westside set the bar high. Plus, they gave me a mango as a parting gift. Someone clearly did their homework. (Please send mangoes, people)

After taping one of my favourite interviews. (Photo courtesy of Roundhouse Radio and Minelle)

After taping one of my favourite interviews. (Photo courtesy of Roundhouse Radio and Minelle)

While I was in town, The Tyee ran a review of The Boat People. It was a wonderful, hilarious piece by Crawford Kilian but BE WARNED: THERE ARE MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS. If you've already finished the book, you are safe to read the review here. I love the classification of The Boat People as 'political horror.' Yes. It is horrific. Parenthetically, I hadn't actually realized I'd written a political book until quite late in the game. One day, I was walking down the street listening to a podcast where some foolish (male...natch) person was opining: "women don't write political books." And I thought: "don't we? wait a second...I did!"

Saying women don't write political books is idiotic. Everything is political. Austen, Eliot, Gallant, Roy...we are all political authors writing about political things. Second, I suspect that most of us don't go into our projects thinking: "right. This is going to be political." We just write books and because we are thinking human beings, our books end up being about world events or personal traumas or relationships between people and guess what? All that stuff is political. Sex is political. Washing the dishes is political. Culture is political. Refugee law is political. Men don't have a monopoly on politics. /Rant

Back to Vancouver! While there, I also taped an episode of CBC's North by Northwest with Sheryl Mackay and an interview with Joe Planta at thecommentary.ca. Stay tuned for links when both those interviews go live.

And finally, my very last interview was a long chat with Minelle Mahtani for Roundhouse Radio's Sense of Place (available now so go have a listen). They have a segment called "Acknowledgements" where they bring in an author and someone they thanked in their acknowledgements page.

David, me, and Minelle. Photo courtesy of Roundhouse Radio.

David, me, and Minelle. Photo courtesy of Roundhouse Radio.

On our way to Roundhouse, my publicist Laura promised this would be one of my favourite interviews. She wasn't overselling. Minelle is an incredible interviewer. She asks deep, thoughtful questions and knows how to get at the big stuff, the emotional stuff. Plus she listens. I mean really listens. Two thirds of the way through our interview we brought in Lisa Moore. The conversation was wide-ranging. We discussed dialogue, location, language, bigotry, bureaucracy, and found a similarity between my novel and Lisa's February. And bonus: David Chariandy dropped by, unexpectedly, to eavesdrop. Knowing that both Lisa and David were listening in to my chat with Minelle wasn't at all nerve-wracking....nope, not at all! In all seriousness: what a lovely way to cap off my time in Vancouver, speaking with Minelle and Lisa and David and listening to them discuss literature with each other.

And did I mention it was spring in Vancouver, my favourite Canadian city? So lovely. Please invite me back!

ps. The Boat People was #1 on the CBC's Bestseller list last week and #5 on the Globe & Mail's list.

 

Right coast, left coast, and all the news in between

Reading at the Association for New Canadians Training Centre. Photo by Andrew Sampson, CBC.

On Tuesday night the CBC and the Association for New Canadians hosted a local Canada Reads event in St. John's and it was a full house. I usually know the crowd at literary events but standing at the podium, looking out at the audience, I thought "who ARE all these people?"And that's when it hit me that this is what happens when the CBC promotion machine starts churning. It's not just friends and friends of friends supporting my book anymore. (I know...I know...why is this STILL a surprise?)

I have to hand it to the CBC and the ANC: they pulled off a fantastic evening with very little notice. There was music, food, and a great group of speakers who told their own arrival stories. I was struck in particular by the gentleman who arrived in Canada seven months ago after spending 17 years in a refugee camp. Seventeen years. Let that sink in. This is what people endure just to come here, just to have all these freedoms and privileges that most of us Canadians blithely take for granted.

L to R: Luwam, Bwisengo, Celestine, and Aveen share their stories while the CBC's Heather Barrett listens. English teacher Grace is on the far right. Photo by Andrew Sampson, CBC.

The five newcomers who shared their stories were seriously, seriously impressive. One young woman is about to graduate highschool with a full scholarship to Memorial University. After the staged part of the event, people stuck around to socialize and I heard the word "resilience" in more than a couple of conversations. Resilience is part of it, sure. But I think there's something else going on here. When good fortune isn't given to you on a platter you don't have the option to be lazy. It's something I've been thinking about a lot since Tuesday.

Segments of Tuesday's event will be aired on Weekend Arts Morning so tune in for that (I'll post a link to the podcast version when it's up). And Andrew Sampson (who kindly let me use his photos) wrote an article about the event.


Signing books. Photo by Andrew Sampson, CBC

In other news, The Boat People received a very favourable review in the Winnipeg Free Press. Here are a couple of my favourite lines: "Bala’s strength is in showing the human side of everyone involved" and "Many details of the situation — trying to evaluate individuals amidst federal government concern about letting in criminals — might have been dull and bureaucratic if Bala’s narrative were not so clear and engaging."

Reporter Dana Gee interviewed me recently for a piece that ran in both The Vancouver Sun and The Province. We talked about the best and worst parts of novel writing, character creation, and the engine of rage that powered my work.

I was on the St. John's Morning show on Thursday chatting with host Jamie Fitzpatrick (author of The End of Music, one of my very favourite books of 2017) and my Canada Reads champion Mozhdah. The segment isn't online yet but for those of you who missed it, I'll post a note as soon as it's up.

Next week I'm off to Vancouver for a couple of days of interviews and an evening event at the Vancouver Public Library. If you are in Van-city, the event is free but you do need to get tickets. Presented by the Vancouver Writers Festival, Incite is a free reading series featuring Canadian authors. I'll be reading from The Boat People and answering questions along with few writers Kim Fu, Djamila Ibrahim, and Guillaume Morisette. As always, I'm as excited for the reading and Q&A as I am to meet fellow authors.

Kerry Clare at 49th Shelf asked me to recommend a reading list for fans of The Boat People. The piece went live earlier this week.

American War toppled me off the top of the mountain and The Boat People is #2 on the CBC Bestseller list this week. No hard feelings. I absolutely adore Omar's book (see aforementioned reading list). We are both going to be at a couple of events in the next few months and I can't wait. Keep an eye on the events page. I post upcoming events, appearances, and readings as soon as they are confirmed.

And speaking of Canada Reads authors, all the finalists will be speaking with Shelagh Rogers on The Next Chapter in the coming weeks. This week's episode features Mark Sakamoto speaking about his luminescent book Forgiveness. The conversation is well worth a listen.

Finally, check out the book's new cover! My first sticker! (Not available in stores just yet)

Numero uno

A few updates:

I'm on this week's episode of CBC Radio's The Next Chapter. The episode is archived and you can listen online or download the podcast to your phone. Shelagh and I had a short chat about news headlines, purgatory, and quotes we remember from Pier 21.

I had a longer talk with host Angela Antle on CBC Radio's Atlantic Voice. She devoted this weekend's full episode to my book and we discussed everything from the importance of editors and writing groups to word choices and Canada Reads. Listen online or download to your favourite podcast app.

At the end of the month, I'll be taking part in the Incite Reading Series at the Vancouver Public Library. I'll be on stage with Kim Fu, Djamila Ibrahim, and Guillaume Morissette. The event is free but please register if you'd like to come. There are a few other readings and public appearances in the works and I keep the events page pretty up-to-date.

Shelf Awareness gave The Boat People a really lovely starred review. Here's an excerpt: In her emotional debut, Sharon Bala composes empathetic characters and encourages her audience to endure their struggles. She grips her readers and dives into the humanity of the world she's created; when they resurface, they'll be gasping for air. Breathlessly beautiful,The Boat People reminds everyone of the value of compassion in a world claiming no shortage of hatred and violence.

And finally, The Boat People was on the Globe & Mail's best seller list again (for the third time in a row) last week AND was THE NUMBER ONE best seller on the CBC's list. Why the difference? The Globe & Mail collects its data mainly from larger sellers like Amazon, Chapters, and Costco and the CBC focuses its numbers more on independent booksellers. In any case, it's really, really wonderful to see the book being embraced by all fine establishments where books are sold. I've been getting photos of the book front and centre in all kinds of shops across the country, from Nelson, BC to Calgary, AB to North Bay, ON to, of course, good old Broken Books right here in St. John's.

Toronto Star

The Boat People got a rave review in this Saturday's Toronto Star. And check out this prime top-of-the-fold real estate! Reviews are hard to come by, especially in major dailies and to score this kind of space is even more extraordinary. A) My publicist Erin is a genius and B) I am NOT taking any of this for granted.

Elsewhere on Saturday, I spent a couple of hours signing novels at Broken Books. If you are in St. John's, swing by their new and larger digs at 245 Duckworth Street (former home of Afterwords Bookshop) where there are still tons of copies for sale.

Saturday Star (January 20, 2018)

Saturday Star (January 20, 2018)

Reviews, interviews, and the Magic 8

The amazing, incredible, hard-working team at McCelland & Stewart.

I'm home after four days on the road promoting my book! Eight interviews, three days, two cities. Here are a few of the highlights:

My favourite interview of the week was the one we recorded for The Sunday Edition. Michael Enright, in addition to being a thoughtful and incisive interviewer, is an old friend of my in-laws so we'd met a couple of times before. As a result, I was totally at ease in the recording studio and I think that comes through in the interview.

Live television interviews are daunting, particularly if they are first thing in the morning and you've tossed and turned more than you've slept the night before. But the team at CTV's Your Morning are such pros they made my interview with Lindsey Deluce easy, like chatting with a new friend.

Sue Carter wrote a really nice piece for The Toronto Star and Metro on the book. And author Marissa Stapley gave the novel a glowing review in Saturday's Globe & Mail. It's behind a paywall but here are a couple of lines from the review that I appreciate: "Bala has vividly conjured worlds, both on Canadian soil and back in Sri Lanka, that show the dualities of living in any country – and that show how powerful the need for safety, the need for home, is in all of us...The characters Bala brings together in The Boat People are different and the same. What we also get from a novel like this is a new way of seeing." YES! This is exactly what I want people to take away from the book. There is no "other." At heart we are all want the same things even if our skin colours and accents are different.

This is my job now: defacing books.

There is little I love more than a good literary quiz. The CBC asked me to complete the Magic 8 Q&A. You can read more about my hatred of jargon and my love of podcasts.

This past Tuesday was also publication day in the US. I was in Toronto and celebrated in my very favourite way - dinner and champagne at home with a group of my oldest friends.

Mari Carlson wrote a very favourable review in BookPage. My favourite line was the last one: "The Boat People reminds us of the fragile nature of truth." The truth, and its imprecise nature, is something I was consciously working through as I wrote and I'm glad that resonated.

And here's an essay I penned for Signature over the holidays on writing about dark subjects.

But it wasn't all interviews and media appearances last week, I also spent some time signing books. If you are in Toronto and would like a signed copy, I scribbled my name in the books at the Indigo at Bay and Bloor and the flagship store in the Eaton's Centre.

Book promotion is a thrilling and exhausting (I didn't sleep for three days straight) and as fortunate as I felt to have such an amazing publicity team who scored the book all kinds of coverage (I've only scratched the surface in this post), I was absolutely overjoyed to flop into my own bed on Friday night. I've spent the weekend sleeping in and reading (Mira T. Lee's "Everything here is beautiful" - which is just as advertised in the title) and going to yoga and spending time with friends. Bliss!

More interviews next week and on Thursday we're having a launch. It's free and open to the public so please join us at the Eastern Edge Gallery from 7:30-9:00pm. There will be food and drinks and live music and books for sale and a short reading too.

 

Buzz

T-minus TWO MONTHS until The Boat People hits real and electronic shelves. JANUARY 9, ya'll, that's the BIG DAY. To be honest, I've been feeling a bit jittery since the late summer. Speaking to other writers, it seems this is par for the course. We work on our books in a protective bubble of support, with feedback from our editors and writing groups and friends, all people who love us and our work. And then we launch our books - these precious vessels into which we've poured our best words, anxieties, tiny pieces of our soul - out into the wide, cruel world. Into the hands of total strangers who may hate the book, literally and figuratively rip it apart, throw it against a wall, set it on fire. It's enough to make me want to hide under the bed on January 9th.

Happily, I've been buoyed by a couple of glowing reviews and some very generous advance praise. It began early in the summer when my editors began forwarding me emails from other writers who had read and loved The Boat People. In July it made 49th Shelf's Most Anticipated list. Mentions began popping up on reader blogs. More recently, the book received good reviews at Booklist and Publishers Weekly, and glowing praise in the winter issue of Atlantic Books Today.

Of course nothing happens spontaneously. In the summer Doubleday and M&S printed advance reader copies (they're called "galleys" State-side) and sent them out to other writers, reviewers, book stores, influencers on GoodReads etc. etc. In July I spoke at an Indie Bookseller event in Halifax. Lots of other stuff about which I'm only dimly aware has been happening behind the scenes on both sides of the border, hours and hours of hard work by publicity and marketing and sales. And also my editors. Because guess what? An editor's work isn't done when the book is finished. An editor's work is NEVER done, I'm learning.

We writers work mostly in isolation. But now, in these last months of gestation, the book is out of my hands and the publishing house machinery has kicked into gear, so many people working hard to ready The Boat People for launch. It feels utterly surreal. And I could not be more grateful.